Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Her Victim Impact Statement

Sexual assault survivors or the otherwise sensitive may find the themes of this post upsetting. 

As usual, I am behind on the big American news, and I first read the name "Brock Turner" in the  text of the survivor's victim impact statement. You may not want to read it if you are yourself a victim of sexual assault or humiliation. The small mercy is that she does not actually remember the original assault, a fact which was certainly used against her on the stand.

This was a very well written victim impact statement. It's difficult to write well about such things, but she did it. She grabbed my attention from the moment of her confused panic about her underwear might be. She didn't yet know, as her finders knew, that she had been found half-naked and exposed on top of pine cones behind a dumpster. Her attacker ran off when he was surprised in the assault by two Swedish graduate students, one of whom cried from the shock of what he had seen.

I have not yet read "the other side of the story", which I realize must be full of colour and dash because it will be about an American college athlete. One of the sharp contrasts between Canadian and American society is that in the USA college athletes are a Big Deal.

American college athletes are not only  a big deal because Americans are so interested in sports--Canadians are also interested in sports--but because the success of college athletes attracts money to their colleges, by way of ticket sales and alumni donations. (The vast majority of Canadian universities are publicly funded; there is no social hierarchy among universities, there is no "Harvard of the North.")  The fancy buildings, the groomed grounds, the fellowships for theology students are financed from the bodies of teenage to twenty-something boys. Therefore these boys get special treatment, and if they commit a crime (or are accused of a crime), they are deemed newsworthy. They are no longer mere thugs or victims: they are the heroes or villains of Greek tragedies.

What kills me is the dumpster. The meaning of what happened to the survivor is probably different for different kinds of women. Certainly my horror and fear of things like this were different when I was a 24 year old virgin from my horror and fear now.  This, of course, has nothing to do with the criminality of the crime. It is a serious crime to have sex with (or shove things into) a woman too incapable to consent, and that's all that really needs to be said regarding a man's point of view. But from the point of view of a sexually active woman being asked by the media to judge between a woman and a man caught on top of her -- consenting to sex with a complete stranger behind a dumpster? With pine-cones jammed into her back? No way.

Sometimes Nice Catholic Girls (among others) labour under the misconception that girls who have sex before marriage are so robbed of dignity that they will do anything. This is not true and can lead to NCGs who "make a mistake" behaving incredibly stupidly in "might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb" style. When I was in university, my rather Bohemian non-Catholic friends did a lot of things I found shocking but they did have boundaries and a certain measure of dignity. I can imagine this boho pal or that in college deciding to have intimate knowledge of a 19 year old stranger after a party in the fresh air, if it was a nice night, but not behind a bloody dumpster. And not when out of her mind drunk.

The survivor mentions the dumpster several times, as if the idea of any woman consenting to sex behind one is  simply beyond belief, and believes her readers will share her disbelief.  As she responds to his self-serving second-guessing, "Even if you did know me, I would not want [to] be in this situation. My own boyfriend knows me, but if he asked to [...] behind a dumpster, I would slap him. No girl wants to be in this situation. Nobody."  I would say, certainly not a woman who has any dignity, as this woman clearly does, as is made evident by her articulate victim impact statement.

What I am going to say now is not about the criminality of rape but purely about protecting yourself from it. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. However, I have noticed that a big factor is alcohol. Another factor is party atmosphere, either at a home or in a club. Yet another is friends losing a friend or leaving her (or him--two Libyan soldiers were convicted of raping a young man in Cambridge, UK last year) alone. And it is worth repeating these things over and over again because sexual assault and rape can be absolutely devastating.

Sadly, telling young women how to protect themselves is sometimes considered a form of blaming the victim. Yes, boys and men need to be told not to rape, and boys and men are told not to rape. The problem is, there are men who will do it anyway. Even if their religion or culture says its okay sometimes (a serious problem in some communities in the UK), they know it's against the law in the USA, in the UK. Anyone not on Brock Turner's defense team would argue he knew he was doing wrong, or he wouldn't have run off--leaving the half-naked woman--when the witnesses appeared.

Unfortunately, some men see stories like this entirely from the assailant's point of view--although in this case, as the guy was caught in the act, I cannot see how a guy couldn't think, at best, "What an idiot"--and do not quite get how rape is a form of personality murder.

This is why such articulate victim impact statements are so important. The answer to "Would you, if you could get away with it" would be different if the question was changed to "Would you, if you could get away with it but you knew the woman would suffer serious emotional trauma/lose her job/become an insomniac/find her relationship to her family disrupted ?" I read of a South Asian man in the UK who said he and his pals would never rape a South Asian girl because her family might kill her afterwards. See, even a racist jerk can feel compassion if he understands the impact his choices might have on a woman.


1. Intend not to get drunk at parties or in clubs. If you do get drunk, go home with a trusted friend. Never walk home alone while drunk. If you get in a taxi cab without your friend, take out your phone and call (or pretend to call) someone so the cabbie can hear you telling them. "Hi. I'm on my way home. I'm in Cab Number Such-and-such." Some cabbies rape customers. Sad but true.

2. Never leave your glass unattended at a large party or at a club, and consider having it filled with water between pints of whatever.

3. Don't ever leave a drunk friend alone. While taking precautions for your own safety, take your drunk friend home. If your drunk friend doesn't want to go home but wants to sit down on the pavement and sleep or leave the club or party with a stranger, tell them you're calling emergency services. If that doesn't smarten them up (or make the stranger flee), call emergency services. Emergency services will not be angry with you. In some UK cities, there are special squads to deal with drunk friends collapsed on pavements.

4. Consider not going to the parties of strangers or to clubs. Do you really enjoy them? If not, why do you go? As a twenty-something, I felt quite liberated when I stopped going to the parties of friends-of-friends. Large parties are often frightfully boring, which is why so many people get drunk at them. Clubs are also often frightfully boring and the state of the women's loo by midnight is just...

UPDATE: Just read Brock Turner's dad's statement. (Perps' dads get to make statements?) Apparently he once had to hide his snacks from his son, or he would eat them. I'm sure a sense of entitlement and a lack of impulse control is not what Mr Turner was trying to get across, but it certainly jumps to mind.  The "my son used to love rib-eye steak, but now he eats only enough to live" play for sympathy seems misguided. Here is the whole letter, representing "the other side of the story". Incidentally, insinuating that the victim is promiscuous is not just deluded, it is shabby.

UPDATE 2: Just read Brock Turner's gal pal's statement. Oh dear. I think Brock Turner's family and friends need to stop communicating with the outside world about Brock Turner.*** Nobody is interested in how sweet and gentle Brock Turner was before and after he decided to have his way with an incapacitated women. His personality is not on trial. No matter how much you like him or her, if your friend sexually assaults an incapacitated woman, he or she deserves a prison sentence.

UPDATE 3: American colleges, you have a problem.   But I don't think it's the athletes. I think its the culture you have built around the athletes. I think you are failing in your duty of care.

***CORRECTION: Brock Turner's family and friends are NOT communicating with the outside world. All these revelations are being leaked to the press from statements made to the judge. Who is doing this? Are these documents supposed to be in the public domain?


  1. That young woman's statement is heartbreaking, not only for its account of her anguish, but also because of its generosity towards the rapist at the end.

    Alias Clio

  2. The sexual revolution and the cultural transformation that followed it created the ideal conditions for tragedies like this to happen. Our ancestors, i.e. those before 1960, understood and accepted the fundamentals of male biology, part of which is that men have violent and sexual urges that must be controlled. Hence why college socials, and other activities where men and women mingled, were chaperoned. (And why there was no co-ed educational institutions).



    1. Men may have violent and sexual urges that need to be controlled (although I am sure there are some men who would take issue with that statement), but one would hope that by college age they would have learned to control those urges themselves. It's not like men are wild beasts who require chaperones when in the presence of women. At least the men I know are not!

    2. Well, one would hope, but Americans finish high school at what, 17? When I was going to Lonergan (Catholic philosopher-theologian) conferences, there was an elderly Lonerganian who LOVED to show us scans of male teenage brains, and she was particularly enthusiastic about the one done while the subject was driving. Male teenagers get so bored, and they love challenges so much, some risked killing themselves the other day trying to break into the HH.

      Now that my generation's children are in uni, I think it is insane that American parents send their 17 year old children away to live with 17 - 22 year old strangers in places portrayed on TV and films as drunken party palaces. That said, the Edinburgh uni students I know are all ladies and gentlemen, but on the other hand, (A) they're also all in the Catholic Student Union, and (B) there's no expectations in Scotland that you go to college to drink your face off.

      It probably comes down to culture. There are several cultures in the world where young men will harass or attempt to rape any woman unaccompanied by a man and this is considered normal, even inevitable.

      By this is all besides the point in this case. In this case a teenager led a seriously intoxicated adult woman (not a college student) out of a house party to an area behind a dumpster. For all anyone knows, she may have thought he was--tragic traddy irony--escorting her home in safety.

  3. It's so sad. :(

    And also sad that people offended when anyone suggests that maybe it's a terrible idea to get drunk at college parties, etc. It's not saying that it's the victim's fault. It's showing girls how to be prudent and not get themselves into dangerous situations.

    And totally different topic-I wonder if American TV is a big reason that those who aren't having s*x before marriage thinks that everyone who does is willing to sleep around with whomever?

    1. I am sure that is a factor. When I was in high school another factor was cultural expectations around female chastity. Some of my Italian-Canadian friends were being raised as if they were still back in the village and you still ruined your chances of a happy married life by being seen kissing a boy on the street. "What a PUTANA!" stormed one girl upon seeing another girl kissing a boy after a dance. "That's the kind of kiss you give your HUSBAND!" Okay, yes, but jeepers. It's dangerously close to those horrible chastity lectures in which girls who have sex outside marriage are compared to chewed food or dirty glasses of water. If you hate yourself fore being a dirty glass of water, who knows where you'll draw the line after that?

      While trad Catholic girls are dealing with purity worries, other girls are all frowny-foreheaded about "Being Responsible." This, of course, is mostly about using birth control; feminist writers seem to have had long, soulful conversations with their high school boyfriends about it all. What would be a good corrective to both points of view is DIGNITY.

    2. Oh my goodness, YES!! Although the hard part is that the people who give that kind of chastity lecture honestly think they do have the right ideas about dignity. Gah!

      I cannot stand that kind of thing. Seriously, people, chastity is great, but it's not the be all and end all of human existence.

  4. He got off too easy. I think she rightly concentrated on the dumpster because who would do that? It is much harder to convince people of rape if she went to his place and didn't remember later. The picture is of a woman he planned to use and throw away like trash.

    1. I agree with you. I'm not sure why there would be a different justice for a tenderly-raised college athlete than for, say, a poor boy from a broken home headed by his grandmother.

    2. Sadly, I think it has a lot to do with the American college/sports culture. It is seriously messed up. It doesn't surprise me that a college athlete would get off more easily.